Features Guest Column Published 14 August 2013

Figs in Wigs: The Art of the Pun

Rachel Porter on everyday sexism and the Figs’ new show We, Object.

Rachel Porter

For those unfamiliar with the art of punning, a pun is a joke that exploits the different possible meanings of a word or words that sound the same but have different meanings. We, Figs in Wigs, are obsessed with puns. Here are some of our favourites:

Abundance – a waltz for cakes.

Sign language – it’s pretty handy.

Europe – a piece of rope belonging to you.

We love puns. Our new show We, Object is full of them. We think the humble pun deserves some attention, and perhaps some respect. Their double meaning allows these words to be, or to do, two things at once. A-bun-dance is both a waltz for cakes and a very large quantity of something. In this sense it also becomes a very large quantity of dancing buns – a striking visual image. Theatre is forever thinking of the best ways to produce meaning(s) for audiences, so if the pun is able to pack multiple meanings into one ‘handy’ parcel, then perhaps it holds some powerful performative potential. Figs in Wigs are fascinated by the hidden meanings of words and text, as well as the ways we play with language to create humour.

However the general consensus on puns is less favourable; if sarcasm is the lowest form of wit then puns are probably not on the spectrum. They are the type of jokes your Dad makes and are usually met with a resounding groan.

We are interested in the idea of ‘bad’ jokes and how we attribute value to art, be that comedy, theatre, painting or other cultural products. What makes a joke bad? What makes a show good? Just how bad does something have to be before it becomes good again? Who decides on these cultural hierarchies and how might we begin to dismantle them?

Our work questions the traditional ideas of quality and taste by celebrating that which is seen as rubbish. Figs in Wigs are best known for their trashy dance routines described as ‘the best bad dancing the world has ever seen.’ Through re-appropriating these ‘bad’ art forms we are asking our audience to rethink and reconsider the way people make judgments about talent, skill and taste.

We should probably point out that the title of the show is itself a pun. We, Object began with our obsession of using excessive amounts of props in our shows: we, the cast, being surrounded by objects. And the props in this show are all miniature – wee objects (a suitably Scottish pun for the Edinburgh Fringe.) But there is another meaning to our title, namely the sexual objectification of women and our objection to it. As the show progresses the plethora of tiny props begins to point to something bigger, namely issues of gender, sexual identity and the assumptions, expectations and discriminations that are placed upon us, often unconsciously. It’s concerned with ‘everyday sexism’ and the masked belittling of women that continually goes unnoticed or gets brushed under the carpet. As five female performers we are interested in using humour to highlight something that frequently gets laughed off and beneath the wordplay something serious is being said.

Despite the wee objects, this is not a show about small things. We think there is a relation between women and puns; both are often accused of not being funny, or at least not the right kind of funny. The age-old tune of ‘men are just funnier than women’ is a tired record, but it’s still being sung here at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013. Arguing that this is due to a heavily male dominated world of comedy, or that female performers are more likely to be judged on their appearance than their material, often seems futile. But as young women making work in the twenty-first century we feel we have a responsibility and a right to have this argument, and if we want to throw in a pun, for added pungency, then we will.

Thanks shallot.

We, Object, which has been developed with support from the Roundhouse, Cambridge Junction and The New Wolsey Ipswich, is on at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall until 24th August 2013. 

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Rachel Porter is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine